Ry Ly bathes her surrogate son Korng (3) at her home in Kampong Speu, Cambodia. 
2023 Photo Contest, Southeast Asia and Oceania, Honorable Mention

Part of Me


Nadia Shira Cohen

for The New York Times
15 January, 2022

Ry Ly bathes her surrogate son Korng (3) at her home in Kampong Speu, Cambodia. 

This series portrays Cambodian surrogate mothers who have been required to raise their surrogate children as their own ever since Cambodia began prosecuting surrogacy in 2016. 

Surrogacy–the act of carrying and birthing a baby for another person or couple–was accepted practice in Cambodia until 2016, when the government started prosecuting  surrogate mothers under already existing human trafficking laws. In 2018, a raid on a house in Phnom Penh led to the arrest and imprisonment of 32 women who were acting as surrogates to predominantly Chinese parents. Nearly all gave birth in confinement and, after sentencing by the Cambodian Supreme Court, all were obliged to raise the babies themselves or face prison terms. 

Many of the women sought surrogacy arrangements with Chinese family planning agencies in order to help their families escape impoverishment and, in some instances, indebtedness from microfinance loans. In recent years, Cambodian households have become some of the most indebted on Earth and a major contributing factor has been the poorly regulated microfinancing sector. The rising burden of financial debt has resulted in an increase in child labor and families forced to sell their homes and land. For many of the women portrayed in this series, surrogacy represented a way out of debt, but now, with the court ruling against them, their lives have become more difficult. Despite financial, social, and personal challenges, many of the would-be surrogate mothers have formed a deep bond with their children even as they express sadness that their children will not be able to benefit from the economic advantages that their biological parents could provide.

Nadia Shira Cohen
About the photographer

Nadia Shira Cohen (1977) is a freelance photojournalist from Boston, United States.  As a contributor to The New York Times, National Geographic, Harpers and many international publications, she works frequently in Latin America as well as countries such as Haiti, Kazakhstan, Congo, Rwanda, and Kosovo, focusing...

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Technical information
Shutter Speed





Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Jury comment

The jury awarded an honorable mention to recognize this important, well executed work that tells an interesting story about surrogate mothers raising children in an unexpected situation.  Visually the work is soft and tender and gives a sense of the love that mothers and the community feel towards the children despite living in challenging conditions. The jury was impressed by how the project describes the geopolitics between China and Cambodia from a unique viewpoint that is rarely discussed on a global level.